It's been a couple of days since Binghamton, which I thought ran quite well. There were of course, some issues that I think American debating could do without, but they are for a couple of separate posts that I am working on. I don't think I will ever understand judge allocation that puts five judges in some rooms, and two in some others. This makes little sense to me, as it seems to say low rooms, which we all know are very messy and generally have newer debaters in them, require less attention, less ears, and less eyes. Top rooms, which usually have more experienced debaters who understand how judgements within the game are made ("debate shorthand," I call it) and usually provide a very clean and deep debate, need more ears, and eyes and minds. I think people who are doing well require less judges, and people who are doing poorly require more. After the round, during lunch, or between elims, those students now have 3-5 people to ask for tips on how to improve. Perhaps someone will explain to me the judge allocation thing one day, but so far nobody has successfully done so.
As far as debate quality in the Northeast region, this is clearly a rebuilding year. The debates I saw in elimination rounds reminded me of 2008 vintage. Here's a good example, from quarterfinals.
Debate: Media Time Spent on Gun Violence - Binghamton 2012 from Steve Llano on Vimeo.
In this debate, you will see how everything becomes very muddled and very unclear very quickly because all of the speakers are showing off how "American" they can be in debate style. Not one speaker takes a step back and analyzes the question of principle - "why we do what we do." They are all talking about consequences, impacts, and causation. If anything signals to a judge that you are from an American debate tradition, it is that style of argument.
I do think that there are a couple of debaters in this round who are novices, and I think they are closing opposition (who had the hottest argument in this debate, in the extension speech, but sort of miss developing it fully) and I don't want you to think I am saying they are responsible for not being good. The question is regionally, community wise, how do we ensure that the tide does not go out so far from year to year?
The other criticism, and it's a fair one, of what I am saying here is that this is a pretty good debate by debate's standards, and I am way out of the normal way of evaluating debates. It's true - I have very little interest in debate. I am interested in rhetoric and argument. On that metric, this debate is really bad. As a debate, I think there are enough tiny causal weird "turn your argument around" strategies to make any debate junky smile. We seek to avoid an inward looking game and seek to offer this game as an examination, a laboratory, an event that causes us to reflect on our discursive practice in our other roles in life.
I want us to live up to our ostensible standard - that we are debating for reasonable, general people - and try to hit that mark. It is the only legitimate, ethical mark to hit if we are going to keep spending this amount of money and professional, scholarly time watching and evaluating these contests. If we are not working to hit the Universal Audience with our discourse, what exactly are we aiming at?
Growing up in the south I was taught never to point a gun, loaded or unloaded, toy or real, at something you didn't intend to shoot. Where is that standard in our argumentation practice?
Or perhaps all of these people are new. But they aren't, not all of them. And even if they were, someone is teaching them what to do. I hope that someone reads this.